Co.alition Smart Backpack Enters the ‘Shark Tank’: Interview With Founders

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Co.alition entered the Shark Tank in Season 7 to debut their smart backpacks that contain a wireless hard drive and can charge your wireless devices. We interviewed co-founders Jeff Popp and Casey Lorenzen who run the business, which includes a brick-and-mortar shop, out of Denver.

Popp explained the bags by saying, “It’s like a personal cloud office that goes everywhere you do and doesn’t require a computer. With the combination of a computerized power supply and a wireless mobile hard drive integrated into the bag, it gives users’ mobile devices more of power, storage and computing ability while on the move.”

Here’s what else the duo told us about…

Buy a Co.alition backpack here.

How They Got the Idea

Jeff: It’s kinda crazy but Co.alition has two distinct moments that made it what it is today and both were about a year apart. It was first inspired when we were on our last day of an amazing 30-mile backpacking trip in Montana in 2012. We were product testing a line of outdoor hiking backpacks and somehow the great outdoors led us to start working on an urban lifestyle brand of bags. The second part of the inspiration came when we were in Tokyo, Japan on a business trip riding the train in 2013. We really took notice to how nearly every single person on the train and really just anywhere was working on the go, constantly using their phone and how everyone needs some sort of bag to carry their things throughout the day.

Experience With Kickstarter

Jeff: We’ve had a great experience overall with Kickstarter but it can be a love/hate relationship. It really is great in the sense that it’s a great tool for brand new businesses to launch a business without bank financing. It’s also great for pre-existing businesses like us to use as a marketing, pre-sale tool and design feedback mechanism for new product launches. The audience is so large, you get great exposure for a new product and can pre-sell way more product than you would be able to without it. The flip side is it can be very overwhelming and it becomes a full-time job that’s very hard to manage with a small team and limited resources. It can end up being such a time-suck that you lose bandwidth to focus on all the other areas of your business while the campaign is running. All in all we wouldn’t change anything and will still keep using it when it seems appropriate.

Buy a Co.alition backpack here.

How Their ‘Shark Tank’ Appearance Came About

Casey: It was actually pretty random. We used to share a workspace with a longtime friend of mine who had heard on the radio that morning that ABC was holding an open casting call in Denver. He shot us a text and we thought, “What the hell, it’s worth a shot.” So we hammered out the application and got down there as one of the very last entrants to pitch our business. They apparently liked what they saw and moved us through to the next round. At the time, we only had a few months of sales for Co.alition under our belts and they wanted to see us come in with a little bit more sales history. Fast forward nine months or so and we were pretty much fast-tracked through the process and we ended up filming in June of 2015.

Nerves Right Before Facing the Sharks

Casey: It’s funny, because pretty much throughout the entire time we were at Sony Studios, we were nervous. Going through the run-throughs, pre-pitches and what-have-you, it was pretty nerve racking. The climax came when we were standing behind the door at the end of the hallway waiting for the doors to open. You stand there for a few minutes in silence and then they give you a 10-second countdown before you’re a go, and at that moment it hit us, like “Holy sh*t, this is happening.” Once we got in front of the Sharks, it was a surprisingly natural and calm experience for us. I think there’s so much lead up to that moment and prep work that goes into it, when you’re finally there, you’re just ready to talk business. We know our business inside and out, so that was the easy part.

Opening a Store

Opening a store was a great move for us and sales have been good! We already had been paying for office space to run the business. One day Casey and I decided if we’re going to pay for space, why not kill two birds with one stone and have a storefront to collect additional sales and build more brand presence in our hometown? We found a great space that perfectly met our needs that we can work out of the back running the actual business and have the front of the space be all retail. The store is in one of the coolest and fastest growing neighborhoods in Denver too so it was a no brainer to pull the trigger. Our gamble paid off and it turned out to be a great call. Our sales in the store have been great; we’ve gotten so many random people that had never heard of us stopping in to check it out and end up buying bags. We’re collecting additional sales we never would have had without the store and far more people in Denver now know about us.

Running a Business in Their Home State

Casey: Denver is our home. Jeff and I are both Colorado natives and planting our business here is a big point of pride for us. We have seen the startup community grow tremendously in the last five to 10 years and it’s been incredible to see the comradery local businesses have and the willingness to help one another out. Starting out building our outdoor backpack brand (MHM) in Colorado was a no-brainer, but there could definitely be more ideal locations to run Co.alition, given that our target demographic is more lifestyle and commuter focused. However, Denver is growing at an exponential rate and it is exciting to be a part of that growth.

Buy a Co.alition backpack here.